Climate policies and actions in Russia: what is the role of communities?

By Angelina Davydova/ Special guest for this bulletin.

There is very little information about climate policies and actions of Russia and other countries of the region (e.g. Eastern Europe or post-Soviet countries) available. Quite a lot of this still dates back to 10 years ago, when quite a few Russian politicians used to joke about how climate change is beneficial for Russia, because we will be able to grow bananas in taiga and would not need our fur coats for winters.

The situation has changed completely by now. Especially now, as I am writing this, there are fierce wildfires in Siberian, with millions of hectares of forests burning, releasing millions of tons of CO2 into atmosphere. At the Far East of Russia there are strong floods, so that people need to be evacuated with their houses destroyed. Russian Arctic is warm as never before: according to official Russian meteorological data, global warming takes place there 1.5 faster than elsewhere in the world.

 On the mitigation side, Russia still has not ratified Paris Agreement, but is about to do it until the end of this year, the government says. So we are likely to hear about it during the UN climate conference in Chile. Up until recently, there was quite a lot of businesses (mostly from coal, steel and other energy-intensive industry) lobbying against the ratification of the Paris Agreement. Now they do not speak so loudly open about it, also partly due to the fact, that Russia’s climate targets under the Paris Agreement are actually rather unambitious, minus 25% to minus 30% percent by 2030 in comparison to 1990. However, Russia’s emissions now are already at around minus 30% from the 1990 level, mainly due to the economic downturn in the 90s (that is also the case for most post-Soviet countries, whose economy collapsed in the 90s). Further climate-related legislation in Russia is also being drafted, including reporting about greenhouse gases for businesses or regions, or introduction of a price on carbon or any other carbon regulation scheme, or preparing a long-term low carbon development strategy, which has just began.

So what about the role of communities, civil society and grass-root movements? Up until recently it was hardly a case. It was mostly local or regional urban environmental problems that attracted most of attention and actions of the civil society groups, including air and water quality, green zones and parks in cities, waste management. Now, however, the situation is changing, and many activists and civil society movements on local level are also trying to connect their local environmental agenda to global climate crisis. Say, over the last few weeks there have been the first Fridays for Future demonstrations in Moscow and some other cities across Russia, with a few dozens young people standing up to future of the plant, of the country, speaking about wildfires, dependence on fossil fuel and many other climate-related problems. Another example is a number of environmental campaigns and initiatives in the industrial city of Chelyabinsk, located in the south of Ural region.

Here a local environmental activist Dmitry Zakarlyukin and a few people around him have launched a grass-root system for separate waste collection and a small upcycling facility. They also initiated a civic system of air quality monitoring (first in Chelyabinsk and then in many other cities across Russia), because the official data did not look reliable or trustworthy, or was not available or easy to understand. They put this data on an online map and make it available to citizens via online or an app. The activists are also trying to think now how they can support community-funded renewable energy project or support development of electric vehicles.

A third example is a network of grass-root groups called Razdelny Sbor (“Separate Waste Collection”) which organizes mobile places where people can bring their separately collected waste (like plastic, glass, etc) and then they transport it to recycling facilities. All this is taking place while the communal infrastructure for separate waste collection is often not present. So a growing number of environmental movements in Russia is beginning to think not only in terms of their local environmental causes, but also in terms of global climate agenda, connection between their environmental issues and greenhouse gas emissions and also further need for actions aimed at reducing global greenhouse gas effect. Many of these activists are also interested in international connections, some of them go to UN climate conferences or are also trying to engage in international climate initiatives.



About the author:

Angelina Davydova is an environmental journalist from St. Petersburg, Russia, regularly contributing to Russian and international media, including the Kommersant, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and Science magazine. She specializes in covering economic and political aspects of global and Russian climate policies, including the UN climate negotiations, which she has been attending since 2008. She teaches at the School of Journalism, St. Petersburg StateUniversity and the Saint Petersburg National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics. She is also a director of the Office of Environmental Information in St. Petersburg, Russia (a non-profit organization focusing on developing environmental journalism in Russia and neighboring countries and also developing international cooperation in environmental and climate areas). She was a Reuters Foundation Fellow at Oxford University in 2006 and she was a participant of the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) at UC Berkeley in 2012. She also was a Humphrey Fellow at UC Davis for 2018-2019.

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